Pharma Marketers Using Programmatic, Consider Privacy and Measurement

If you've been anywhere near the digital pharma conference circuit in recent months, you've heard an earful about programmatic advertising, which automates the ad-buying process. It tends to prompt this reaction: “Sounds great, but there's no way I could ever get that through regulatory.”

You're not alone in thinking that. Even though programmatic now dominates the business of buying and selling digital ads — eMarketer projects it will account for three in four placements of desktop and mobile display ads next year — the pharma industry has largely stayed out of the game. We think that will change as the potential benefits of greater efficiency and targeting become more apparent and ad-tech vendors find an untapped market in pharma.

Want to learn more about programmatic for the pharmaceutical industry? Attend MM&M's Big Data for Big Decisions event in New York on December 7. 

That's because programmatic buying helps brands eliminate waste by giving them better access to the audiences most relevant to them.

Advertisers traditionally bought inventory in advance from a select group of trusted publishers; with programmatic buying, a digital publisher places inventory on biddable ad exchanges.

Advertisers can then buy inventory based on audience behavior, geolocation, or content relevance in real time and are empowered to bid on individual impressions in an auction-based environment. This allows them to reach more of their desired audience at a fair-market price.

See also: PulsePoint launches health vertical for programmatic advertising

That's easier said than done, of course. There's a reason pharma lags on the programmatic adoption curve: It's a heavily regulated industry, and there are concerns around privacy, though these are manageable. To get up to speed, pharma marketers will need to address three key issues: privacy, vendors, and measurement.

First, there are concerns around adjacent content and sensitivity to patient privacy issues that might trip HIPAA regulations. Resolving these issues is doable but requires coordination across oft-siloed internal stakeholders.

Second, some ad-tech vendors have steered clear of healthcare due to these regulatory issues. There are workarounds, but good tech partners can be tough to find.

See also: Physicians still rely on medical journals but turn to the web when they have only 10 minutes

And finally, gauging the effectiveness of programmatic investments is inherently tricky. It can be challenging to attribute behavioral impact, which is often measured by script volume, to digital advertising.

But pharma can benefit from the web behavior data emitted as a byproduct of the programmatic ecosystem. When ads are up for bid, information about the ad is collected by a third-party vendor. Marketers can use this data to understand audience behavior and measure reach and effectiveness, thereby fine-tuning targeting and increasing ROI.


Erin Warner is VP of strategy for DRG Digital.